It’s a sad fact of being a parent, but sometimes, for reasons I can’t explain, you will find inexplicably awful books appearing on your kid’s bookshelf. Usually, it’s just a crappy movie tie-in or a flea market oddity or a Burger King promotional item, but sometimes you find something really, truly odd.
Case in point – one day, while on vacation, I found my 4-year-old daughter perusing a worn copy of Truax, a weird pamphlet of a picture book, published in 1995, that is supposed to be an eye-opening rebuttal of Dr. Seuss’ classic environmental fable, The Lorax.
However, unlike Theodore Geisel, the creators of Truax didn’t rely on some stuffy, tree-hugging publishing company like Random House to release their iconic children’s tale. Instead, they wisely chose a more fair and impartial partnership to bring their story to the masses – The Truax was published “through a cooperative effort of the Hardwood Forest Association and the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association.” That’s right. Because if you want a balanced, agenda-free look at the logging industry, there’s, of course, no better source for information than the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association.
(In related news, after hours of intense debate, my mom has named me Handsomest Dude in Town. I thank her for her calm, fact-based assessment.)
My daughter found Truax – the title is just “Truax”, not “The Truax,” which sounds much better – at the bottom of a toy chest in an old family cottage in northern Michigan and, when asked what she was reading, she shook her head and said, “I don’t know. I’m very confused.” And I don’t blame her.
Truax is an odd little attempt at parody from people who obviously felt slighted by Dr. Seuss’ portrayal of the logging industry as a bunch of mean ol’ Once-lers in The Lorax. Is it amateurish? Heck yeah – it looks like it was written and drawn by the people who create kids menus for knock-off Big Boy hamburger chains – but the people creating it were, in fact, amateurs, so it’s a little hard to fault them for not having Seuss’ virtuoso skill with words and images. But, don’t worry, dear readers, there are a lot of other faults that you CAN hold against the Truax team.
First and foremost, there’s no story. Say what you will about Dr. Seuss’ politics, but the man knew how to tell a story and he did actually work to create a nice little allegorical tale around the legend of the Lorax. Truax, on the other hand, is just 20 pages of an exasperated, conservative logger bemusedly shaking his head while he explains to a wacko-Lorax analog called Guardbark exactly how wrong he really is.
The kindly logger Truax was just doing his job when the nutzo, tree-faced Guardbark arrives on the scene and promptly begins throwing a tantrum:
“I WON’T take a seat, or LISTEN, or LOOK,”
The Guardbark raved on. He snarled as he shook.
“I’m Guardbark, I tell you, keeper of trees.
Our future, you know, is dependent on these.
You must stop this hacking and whacking and stacking.
You should NOT be here. I MUST send you packing.”
This is Guardbark’s M.O. for most of the book. He screams and froths and whines, while Truax tries to calm him down with platitudes like, “Talking’s much better than losing your head!” And the strange thing is… the writer of Truax keeps peppering in phrases like that – calls for a calm, rational approach and references to how complex the issues surrounding logging are. At one point, Truax comes out and says, “That’s a tough question. It takes lots of thought / To decide what we ought not do, or we ought.” Or later he states, “I felt he must learn that I’m concerned, too, / I don’t have all answers, but gave him my view.”
And, when read out of context, lines like that make me think, “Hmm, you know, the writer seems deferential and humble. Maybe I should hear the other side of the whole Lorax argument.”
The problem is – those lines only work out of context. When you read them within the context of the actual book, you realize that they’re meaningless. Truax NEVER listens to Guardbark, who’s portrayed as an ignorant lunatic, and all of Truax’s arguments are presented as God-certified truths with no room for debate. Truax likes talking more than “losing your head,” but that’s when he’s the only guy talking.
Truax claims that, for every tree they cut down, they plant five more. (This “fact” shocked Guardbark.) He also claims that the planet relies more heavily on those young trees rather than fully-grown trees to create oxygen, so really, the hardwood flooring industry isn’t just giving us high-quality replacements for carpeting, they’re also giving us the air we breathe. And, again, Guardbark’s reaction is just a wide-eyed “REALLY?” Truax then gets further into the “truth of the matter” about how 95 million acres have been set aside in national preserves, “JUST to look nice,” so, really, what the heck is Guardbark complaining about anyway?
What follows next is THE most reductive discussion of biodiversity that I’ve EVER heard in which Truax claims that clear-cutting a forest is actually, believe it or not, awesome for the local wildlife:
A newly-cut forest has sun on the ground
And BIODIVERSITY leaps and abounds.
All kinds of new species move in together.
From scales to warts, from fur to feathers.
So, forget the indigenous wildlife. Once we kick those shade-loving, wood addicts out of their leaf-covered welfare tenements, it’s going to open up a lot of opportunities for a more diverse, sun-loving animal population to drop in and thrive. I wouldn’t be nearly this incredulous about the Truax’s argument if the writer didn’t open the biodiversity section stating, “I like these discussions where views are debated. / So I dug up my facts and quickly I stated…” Right there, the author claims to welcome a healthy debate of opposing views, but then NEVER has any of Truax’s statements challenged or even backed up in any way and makes his sole opposition, Guardbark, a simpering, screaming mess.
For me, Truax goes completely off-the-rails once Guardbark, in a rare moment of calm, politely brings up the impact of logging on endangered species. Truax, acknowledging that it’s a tough question, brushes off his concerns with a few short lines:
Would anyone mind if we lost, say, a tick
That carried a germ that made Cuddlebears sick?
Or what about something that’s really quite nice
Like the Yellow-Striped Minnow that lives in Lake Zice?
How far will we go? How much will we pay?—
To keep a few minnows from dying away?
And this is where Truax’s compassionate conservative act dies away and the cartoon logger starts wearing his bias on his sleeve. Fine, even earlier, Truax had been completely condescending and dismissive of the whole concept of nature preserves – jeez, we put away some trees JUST to look nice… isn’t that enough? – but the way he glosses over the extinction of entire species really is a thing to behold.
Forget the debate. If an animal goes extinct due to logging, either a). it was probably secretly horrible or was just something cute to look at, or b). it was totally worth it for my high-quality, low-cost, beautifully-lacquered hardwood oak floors. There’s no reason to debate that any further. No need to bring up the impact on eco-systems, pollution, soil erosion… they’re non-issues. Truax explained all those cares away with his carefully composed “facts,” so why would Guardbark even need to question where those facts came from? Since, like all people concerned about the environmental impact of rampant over-logging, Guardbark is obviously asking the world to never cut down a tree ever again – Truax imagines a future where all houses are built of “plastic and steel” – Truax just needed to explain to Guardbark that everything he believed in was wrong and Guardbark, for his part, walked away from the debate happier in the knowledge that he’d been worrying for nothing.
The book actually ends with the line “I think things ARE NOT quite as bad as they seemed“… which, c’mon, does acknowledge that things still are kind of bad, right? That line alone, to me, seems way sadder and bleaker than anything Dr. Seuss put forth in The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book COMBINED.
My daughter quickly discarded Truax – without any prompting from me – but I couldn’t leave it up at the cottage for another generation to stumble upon, so I tucked it in our suitcase and brought it home. It’s not that I’m trying to silence the viewpoint of The Truax (seriously, “THE Truax” sounds so much better). I just object to Truax pretending that it’s a kid’s book.
Dr. Seuss and many other children’s writers have proven that powerful social allegories, often with the occasional political undertone, can work as children’s books – IF the author spends as much time crafting their story as they do crafting their message. The Lorax is a sophisticated, passionate fable that makes some very clever and interesting arguments about the impact of industrialization. Truax, on the other hand, is 20 pages of complaining about The Lorax.
But, still, I’ll admit, there’s a tiny part of me that loves that the world is so big and varied and weird that I can go on vacation in the middle of the woods and my daughter can walk away with a bizarre little slice of propaganda that’s desperately trying to knock a classic kids’ book down a few pegs. I don’t want my daughter to ever make the same kinds of lazy, half-considered arguments that can be found in Truax, but I do love that, as she develops as a reader, she’ll constantly be exposed to the best and worst that children’s lit has to offer and she’ll have to make up her own mind about what’s quality and what’s garbage.
To paraphrase a wise man, a simple, truthful man that I know as THE Truax: “It takes lots of thought / To decide what we ought not to read, or we ought.”
If you’re interested in reading Truax, you can find a full PDF of the book here along with not-biased-at-all lesson plans and book reviews.
You can also read a few decidedly funnier reviews of Truax on the book’s Amazon.com page.